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Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To [Hardcover]

Sian Beilock
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 21 2010
Why do the smartest students often do poorly on standardized tests?
Why did you tank that interview or miss that golf swing when you should have had it in the bag?
Why do you mess up when it matters the most—and how can you perform your best instead?

It happens to all of us. You’ve prepared for days, weeks, even years for the big day when you will finally show your stuff—in academics, in your career, in sports—but when the big moment arrives, nothing seems to work. You hit the wrong note, drop the ball, get stumped by a simple question. In other words, you choke. It’s not fun to think about, but now there’s good news: This doesn’t have to happen.

Dr. Sian Beilock, an expert on performance and brain science, reveals in Choke the astonishing new science of why we all too often blunder when the stakes are high. What happens in our brain and body when we experience the dreaded performance anxiety? And what are we doing differently when everything magically “clicks” into place and the perfect golf swing, tricky test problem, or high-pressure business pitch becomes easy? In an energetic tour of the latest brain science, with surprising insights on every page, Beilock explains the inescapable links between body and mind; reveals the surprising similarities among the ways performers, students, athletes, and business people choke; and shows how to succeed brilliantly when it matters most.

In lively prose and accessibly rendered science, Beilock examines how attention and working memory guide human performance, how experience and practice and brain development interact to create our abilities, and how stress affects all these factors. She sheds new light on counterintuitive realities, like why the highest performing people are most susceptible to choking under pressure, why we may learn foreign languages best when we’re not paying attention, why early childhood athletic training can backfire, and how our emotions can make us both smarter and dumber. All these fascinating findings about academic, athletic, and creative intelligence come together in Beilock’s new ideas about performance under pressure—and her secrets to never choking again. Whether you’re at the Olympics, in the boardroom, or taking the SAT, Beilock’s clear, prescriptive guidance shows how to remain cool under pressure—the key to performing well when everything’s on the line.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Review

“Alluring and daunting” -- Wired.com

“Readable explanations for why we choke and valuable suggestions for what we can do to get through a make-or-break moment with a better chance of success.”
--Wall Street Journal

"If you aspire to be cool under maximum pressure (and who doesn't?), Beilock offers smart tips such as practicing under pressure and 'pausing the choke' by walking away from the problem for a few minutes in order to think clearly."
--Time Magazine

“. . . a must read for golfers.” – WorldGolf

“Choke is an important, fascinating book. Everyone who is looking for optimal performance would benefit from reading it and implementing its principles.”

—Daniel G. Amen, MD, Author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body

“Do you want to hit better shots on the golf course? Score higher on the SAT? Get less nervous before speaking in public? In this marvelous book, Sian Beilock will tell you how, as she reveals the mental secrets to performing under pressure.”
--Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist

“A wonderful exploration of what happens inside when you choke on the outside. Essential for anyone who has, or plans, to compete, and especially for those who have choked.”
--Andrew Newberg, M.D., co-author of How God Changes Your Brain and Born to Believe --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Sian Beilock, a leading expert on cognitive science and the many factors influencing all types of performance, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. She received a BS in Cognitive Science from the University of California, San Diego in 1997 and PhDs in both kinesiology and psychology from Michigan State University in 2003.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book but not for me Oct. 10 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I chose this rating because I found that it talked too much about the research and not enough about what steps we can take to overcome the anxiety when we need to perform.

It has great research and I could understand the sports analogies but I had a difficult time finding a solution to my problem which is why I purchased the book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not the greatest.. Jan. 30 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Some useful hints, however most of book is full of fluff/filler to pad it out. Could have been condensed into 20 or so pages.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful for Counsellors April 4 2011
Format:Hardcover
I read Choke recently (and heard the author on CBC Radio's Definitely Not the Opera) and found it enlightening. As a counsellor at a university in a suburb of Vancouver, BC, I work with many students on the issue of test anxiety. For years, I've been using some of the elements that she references, especially understanding the nature of anxiety from a Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and/or mindfulness perspective. But her research about having students write before an exam, both about multiple facets of oneself AND about one's worries about an upcoming test, has enriched my understanding of what may help to prevent choking. I'm already incorporating those findings into my practice with students, especially since the idea of developing a mindfulness practice is not always an easy 'sell' with students.

I also think the chapters in the book on procedurally-based tasks will be applicable to our nursing students who freeze during their early clinical experiences and our music students, during recitals: inserting an IV line properly or performing on stage is more like making a putt than like answering a question on a test.

The beauty of the book is that it not overly-technical, and so is completely accessible to lay people as well as professionals. I'll be recommending it to students.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  51 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A no-brainer Sept. 15 2011
By Deb - Published on Amazon.com
Ever feel betrayed by your brain?

It's the day of the big test, and even though you've aced every practice test, you can't even get through the first few problems on the actual test. Or, you've mastered your speech, and could practically recite it in your sleep, and then on the day of your performance, you freeze. Or, you've been flawlessly making every putt on the greens during practice, but when the pressure's on during the game, you can't putt to save your life.

We're all too familiar with the ways the brain can choke. Fortunately, Sian's book _Choke_ provides us with insight into why our brains can get derailed, and also offers techniques for getting things back on track. In essence, there are two ways the brain can choke. The first happens when worries and anxieties interfere with the brain's horsepower needed for complex-thinking and reasoning tasks. The second happens when we over-focus too much on a performance, disrupting the natural flow of what normally happens outside of our conscious awareness. _Choke_ addressees both types of brain bonks, and shows what we can do about each.

The book is packed with plenty of food for thought to help nourish the brain and prevent choking. To whet your cognitive appetite, here's just a sample:

The curse of expertise:
*As we get better at performing a skill, our conscious memory for how we do it gets worse and worse. (p. 16)

Training success:
*Practice can actually change the physical wiring of the brain to support exceptional performance. (p. 43)
*Athletes' tendency to overthink their performance is one big predictor of whether they will choke in important games or matches. (p. 60)

Less can be more--Why flexing your prefrontal cortex is not always beneficial:
*Adults are better at acquiring a new language--that is, adults look more like kids with underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes--when they are distracted and not concentrating too hard on what they are learning. (p. 77)
*Having a golfer count backwards by threes, or even having a golfer sing a song to himself, uses up working-memory that might otherwise fuel overthinking or a flubbed performance. (p. 78)

Brain differences between the sexes--A self-fulfilling prophecy?:
*Just being stereotyped negatively is enough to drive down performance. (p. 103)
*Stereotype threat is most dramatic for those girls who are the most skilled and most interested in excelling at what they are being tested on. (p. 103)

Bombing the test--Why we choke under pressure in the classroom:
*Practicing under the types of pressures you will face on the big testing day is one of the best ways to prevent choking. (p. 147)

The choking cure:
*Writing about your worries before a test or presentation prevents choking. (p. 159)
*Putting your feelings into words changes how the brain deals with stressful information. (p. 161)

Choking under pressure--From the green to the stage:
*Heightened attention to detail can actually mess you up. (p. 190)
*Paralysis by analysis occurs when you attend too much to activities that normally operate outside of conscious awareness. (p. 192)

Fixing the cracks in sport and other fields--Anti-choking techniques:
*Training in stressful situations minimizes the possibility of the choke as you gradually become accustomed to the pressure. (p. 213)
*Focusing on what to do (a strategy focus) rather than how to do it (a technique focus) can help prevent cracking under stress. (p. 222)

So, whether you want a test score that reflects your true abilities, you want to be able to speak eloquently (or at least flub-lessly) in front of an audience, you want to be able to make that putt when it really counts, or you just want to figure out how to get your brain on your side, getting your hands on a copy of _Choke_ should be a no-brainer.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what I expected, though certainly not uninteresting Aug. 2 2011
By klavierspiel - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Sian Beilock, the author of "Choke," is on the faculty of the University of Chicago, a pretty impressive credential. She has ostensibly written a book that will help the reader understand why pressure situations often produce sub-par performances, as we have all witnessed from star athletes on television, and most likely experienced ourselves in other situations, such as academic testing or public speaking.

As a performing musician who, after many years, still would like to improve his consistency and quality of performance, I started this book expecting specific advice about how to deal with choking, i.e. how to counteract the tendency toward freaking out and not doing one's best when it most counts. Beilock does make a useful distinction early on between so-called "working memory," which seems to be conscious intellectual thought and analysis, and "thinking outside the box," which seems to be what most of us might call instinct or gut reaction. The upshot of her thesis boils down to this: under pressure people who rely heavily on working memory get into trouble because too much conscious thought can actually inhibit and disrupt performance rather than enhance it. While certainly true this is not exactly a new idea, and rather than develop it Beilock goes off for much of the book on tangents about high-stakes academic testing and self-reinforcing stereotypes, material that is certainly provocative and important but that seems less than central to the main topic. There is some sound advice about preparing by putting oneself in pressure situations in advance of the "main event," and of dealing with performance anxiety by writing about it and facing it head-on rather than denying or ignoring it. I also like the little checklists that summarize the main points of several chapters. Still, with regard to minimizing the chances of "choking" and improving one's overall performance in pressure situations, other books have covered the main topic as well or better, especially as applied to specific areas of endeavor such as musical or athletic performance.
65 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, but a bit misleading Sept. 28 2010
By AStickyWicket - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a very well researched and written look at the Neurological Basis of performance.

I had one very frustrating issue with it though. Nowhere in the promotional material for this book is there any indication that it will be about scientific research that disproves the biological explanation for the differences between Men and Women in the Math and Science fields. Yet, for some reason, a full quarter, verging on a third of text is devoted to this topic.

It's a strange experience to read this. The author establishes a thread about the neurological basis of choking, and then goes on a nearly 100 page tangent. While this is certainly an interesting, significant, and necessary topic, it doesn't fit in well with the rest of the book.

It seems as if it would have worked better on its own.

Other than this issue, the book is a great read.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Impressive Guide to Understanding and Maximizing Performance Under Pressure Oct. 13 2010
By The Pearl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I found this book to be both intellectually impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. The topic is one that should matter to everyone: how we perform -- or sometimes fail to perform -- under pressure. Whether your interest is in improving your golf game, understanding why your very bright and talented kid just bombed the SATs, or how to do a presentation at work, this book provides tremendous insight into the science of how people perform under pressure. Most important, the author uses that scientific insight as a basis for designing practical ways to improve your performance in pressured situations. The author has a gift: the ability to present scientific explanations of how our brains function under stress in a style that is comprehensible to a lay person. (I have not taken a science class since junior year of high school, so that I particularly appreciate her style.) The tone is just right. The author finds a way to explain and simplify without condescending in any way. Best of all, the author offers a great reward to those who read her book: with the understanding of how people function under stress comes a very practical guide to ways we can use that understanding to improve our performance levels in the vast, diverse realm of activities that are the stuff of everyday life. This book represents a practical application psychology at its very best, more powerful and more useful than any "sef-help" book you will ever read.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but ineffective. Jan. 29 2012
By Zelda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'm a classical singer. I was excited about this book and the implications it has for the performing artist as well as sports enthusiasts so I read the book cover to cover and tried some of the techniques outlined in the book. Here was my result:
Specifically, the techniques suggested by the book that I employed were:

A) Writting about specific worries and concerns prior to the performance.
B) Meditating ten to thirty minutes a day.
C) Distract yourself. Think about anything, baseball or your baby toe. Anything else except for the extremely difficult thing, like singing a high C#, that you are about to do.

What I got was pretty interesting and even funny (in hind sight). In the middle of my performance, after spending up to six months preparing these songs and singing them on a daily basis, I suffered not one but two fairly severe brain farts resulting in the biggest lapse in memory I can remember ever having as a performer. In the third song of my program I completely blanked on the third and final verse and had to stand there on stage, by myself, looking like a total moron while the pianist finished off the piece without me. Then in happened again in the fifth song but this time, instead of standing there mutely looking dumbfounded, I decided it was somehow better to stutter out fake lyrics instead of just closing my big soprano mouth and shutting up. What was supposed to come out as "De donde venis amore" came out more like, "dedede dididididid duh duh duh."

So ok, to be fair there were many factors that could have been responsible for the mental flatulence: the tempo on the second song was too quick at took me by surprise, I've had a series of mediocre performances recently that didn't make me feel terribly confident in the first place, and I took some mysterious but harmless herbs intended to chill me out in advance. The main point however is this: I've been performing for over thirty years. PA is not new to me. I've learned to do some practical things like (duh) practice a lot and in front of an audience, test out mysterious herbs in advance of serious performances and be prepared or even expect random tempi from the pianist.

So the only logical conclusion I could come to after the whole experience is that you get what you focus on. I was so focused on performance anxiety that that is in fact what I got. Indeed, there were plenty of times while reading Beilock's book that I got butterflies just thinking about this stuff.
So while the performance and the book's advice I would ultimately have to regard as a failure, I can say I learned an important lesson from the whole experience. Focus on the fun, not the fear.

PS. I will say I think the meditation helped me sleep at night. I suffer from intermittent insomnia and this was just the kind of event that normally would have kept me up all night for weeks. Thankfully I slept like a baby.
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